The San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots were close to winning it all in 2012. Ultimately, a late-season run by the Baltimore Ravens resulted in the franchise's second Super Bowl title.
The Ravens have a lot of questions to answer with injuries and turnover on their defense, but the aforementioned teams figure to be at—or near—the top of the NFL power rankings all season. Not every team that will make regular-season and postseason noise in 2013 was a playoff team in 2012.
The following power rankings will spotlight teams that missed the playoffs last year, but are set to make the NFL's second season this year.
Spotlighted teams will feature an image.
1. San Francisco 49ers
Yes, the Niners lost Michael Crabtree for at least six months, per Mike Garafolo of USA Today, but the defense is still formidable. Vernon Davis is ready to take on a bigger role in the offense, and Colin Kaepernick is set to take his promising career to the next level.
2. Seattle Seahawks
The two best teams in the NFL are in the NFC West. The Seahawks are out to prove they are the cream of the crop with a stingy defense and a young quarterback in Russell Wilson, whose intangibles are off the chart.
3. New England Patriots
Despite losing Wes Welker and depth at tight end, the Patriots always find ways to score points with Tom Brady and a productive offensive line. The improved secondary is the main reason this team will be the AFC's best when the season begins.
4. Denver Broncos
Peyton Manning is the greatest regular-season quarterback in history. Add in a promising young running back like Montee Ball, Welker in the slot and a big-play defense, the Broncos will be back battling for a first-round bye in the playoffs.
5. Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta's offense should only be better this year as it replaces Michael Turner with a rejuvenated Stephen Jackson at running back. Getting a more consistent pass rush will be the key to moving into the top four spots.
6. New Orleans Saints
The Saints will be back with a vengeance in 2013. After a tumultuous 2012 season, the NFL will be reminded how good Drew Brees and Sean Payton can be when they're together. Some lingering issues on defense could still keep the Saints from being a Super Bowl team.
The Saints' success will hinge on the defense's transition to a 3-4 defense. Will Smith and Akiem Hicks will be relied on heavily to help improve the team's sack total from 2012.
New Orleans' 30 sacks had them ranked 27th in the NFL last season.
7. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers had a down year in 2012, but the roster got younger and healthier in key spots. Jason Worilds and rookie Jarvis Jones will make the departure of James Harrison easy to absorb. Likewise, losing Mike Wallace from the receiving corp won't cripple the unit.
8. Chicago Bears
Some may consider this too high, but the Bears are my pick as the year's most surprising team. Under head coach Marc Trestman and offensive line coach Aaron Kromer, the offense will be as good as it has been in decades.
Defensively, the Bears still have Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings. Losing Brian Urlacher's leadership is noteworthy, but veteran D.J. Williams and rookie Jonathan Bostic are ready to fill in.
9. Green Bay Packers
Last season the Packers couldn't protect Aaron Rodgers; he was sacked 48 times. The moves the Pack made in the offseason don't scream huge improvement to the offensive line.
Rodgers could be in for another season under duress. If he goes down, the Packers are in a world of trouble.
10. Houston Texans
The Texans have a ton of talent on offense, but Matt Schaub is a glorified game manager. This team leans so heavily on the run that you have to wonder when or if Arian Foster will wear down.
11. Dallas Cowboys
This is the year the Cowboys finally turn all that talent into a playoff berth. Tony Romo gets a bad rap for the team's failures over the past two seasons, when the defense is as much—or more—to blame.
In 2013, the switch to a 4-3 defense will improve the overall defensive line play and take some pressure off DeMarcus Ware to produce the bulk of pressure on the quarterback.
Dallas will be the only NFC East team to make the playoffs.
12. Baltimore Ravens
The defending champions are primed for a fall. They've lost valuable veteran leadership at multiple positions. Any rankings list that has them in the top 10 is overrating this squad.
Which team will finish with the better record?
13. Cincinnati Bengals
As talented as the Bengals are on both sides of the ball, they remain on the outside looking in at the elite teams in the AFC. Ultimately, the fingers will point at Andy Dalton at quarterback with legitimate questions about whether he's the man to lead the team to the next level.
14. St. Louis Rams
You have to love the way Jeff Fisher is building this team in his own image. Much like the Bengals with Dalton, ultimately the Rams may have to evaluate whether Sam Bradford is the right man under center.
15. Washington Redskins
I'm not quite as high on the Redskins as others. Robert Griffin III's health is a major concern. While Kirk Cousins filled in admirably in RG3's stead last season, if the Skins have to count on him for a prolonged period, they aren't as dynamic on offense.
To keep RG3 healthy, the play-calling will likely be a bit more conservative, which also hinders the offense's effectiveness. This looks like a disappointing season in the nation's capital.
16. Indianapolis Colts
Another team with a stellar rookie quarterback is in for a bit of a falloff. Everything fell into place for Andrew Luck and the Colts in 2012. In 2013, the team won't sneak up on anyone. There is a void of defensive playmakers on the roster, and that will keep the Colts down.
17. New York Giants
Aside from Jason Pierre-Paul, the Giants' aging defensive line isn't scary anymore. That unit and a banged up secondary will force the team to win shootouts in 2013. Although Eli Manning, Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks are still a deadly trio, the G-Men's defense will keep them behind the Cowboys in the division.
18. Miami Dolphins
Adding Danell Ellerbe and Wallace gives the Fins difference-makers on both sides of the ball. Ryan Tannehill isn't quite ready to lead a highly productive offense, though.
19. Minnesota Vikings
Adrian Peterson is a beast, we know, but the passing game is a major question mark. The jury is still out on Christian Ponder, and don't underestimate the impact of losing a do-it-all player like Percy Harvin.
20. Philadelphia Eagles
It'll take time to get the Eagles offense functioning at the level Chip Kelly is looking for. That progress will especially be slowed with the litany of injuries the Eagles have on the offensive line. Couple that with a secondary that will seemingly struggle to stop the pass, and the Eagles are headed for last place in the NFC East.
21. Kansas City Chiefs
Things are looking up for the Chiefs. The league's most miserable team in 2012 has a new quarterback and direction with Andy Reid in charge. Kansas City is a good bet to finish second to the Broncos in the AFC West.
22. Carolina Panthers
Cam Newton and Co. will have a tough go of it in their own division, but the pieces are there to have a breakout season. Improving the run defense was a major need, and rookie Star Lotulelei should help in that area. Overall, the constant injuries to their linebackers will cost them.
23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs have the misfortune of playing in a very tough division. The Saints and Falcons are near elite and the Panthers should be one of the more up-and-coming teams.
No team gave up more passing yards in 2012, and the Bucs didn't make any moves that would lead us to believe they have drastically improved in this area. That's not a good look in this division.
24. New York Jets
This may be Rex Ryan's last season as coach. The team needs to name Geno Smith the starter from Day 1, but sticking with Mark Sanchez will almost assuredly result in a slow start and another season outside of the playoffs.
25. Arizona Cardinals
Larry Fitzgerald finally has someone to throw him the ball in Carson Palmer, but Palmer won't get adequate protection from the Cardinals' weak offensive line. Get ready for another frustrating season in Arizona.
26. Detroit Lions
Bringing up the rear in the NFC North is something the Lions should be used to. The team lost its last eight games of the season last year and in the process lost its belief in head coach Jim Schwartz. This won't end well.
27. San Diego Chargers
The Chargers offense lacks explosiveness on the outside. Antonio Gates is far removed from the elite tight end he was five years ago, and the defense is going through transition.
The first year under a new general manager and head coach will be a rough one.
28. Cleveland Browns
The only way it makes sense to draft a 28-year-old quarterback is if said quarterback is ready to be a difference-maker sooner than later. That can't be said for Brandon Weeden at this point, and the Browns' progress is being impeded by having him installed under center. While the team figures out Weeden isn't the answer, another season will go by the boards.
29. Tennessee Titans
The run game may be back in effect for the Titans, but there is real concern about the team's ability to go vertical. If Jake Locker can't prove he can stretch defenses, then Chris Johnson will be handcuffed by extra men in the box to stop the Titans' one-sided attack.
30. Buffalo Bills
The Bills defense is going to be good, but the quarterback play is a major variable. No one should put a ton of stock in Kevin Kolb as a starter, and if rookie EJ Manuel wins the job, it'll take five or six weeks of solid play before anyone is comfortable with him at the helm. For now, Bills fans should be ready to lose a ton of low-scoring games.
31. Oakland Raiders
Oakland's offense is going to be frightful. Neither Matt Flynn, Terrelle Pryor nor rookie Tyler Wilson is an extremely exciting option at quarterback. Last season the team's defense mustered only 25 sacks all season. Only the Jacksonville Jaguars had less.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars should have their pick of potential franchise quarterbacks in the 2014 draft. This team will again struggle to move the ball through the air. The selection of Luke Joeckel gives the team a building-block offensive tackle. The next step is finding a franchise quarterback for him to protect.
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